The biggest challenge for the NZX is the ASX, Silvana Schenone, head of MinterEllisonRuddWatts' corporate division, says.
"We are seeing a very aggressive ASX targeting New Zealand companies, targeting fewer listings, but also exclusive ASX listings," she said.
"They have the resources," Schenone said at the release of the firm's latest report on mergers and acquisitions for 2020.
Rival law firm Chapman Tripp said in a report released this week that New Zealand equity capital markets were showing signs of a revival.
"We have a different view," Schenone said.
"Generally, there is a higher level of caution emerging within the market."
Chapman Tripp saw the last year's NZX listing of Napier Port, and the support it gained from Australian institutions, as a sign of confidence in the exchange.
"Unfortunately, I see that as showing that the NZX is having a really tough time," she said, adding Napier Port was the only substantial listing last year.
She added people don't like IPOs any more "because the process is hard and expensive" even though there are initiatives to simplify the process.
"If there is any hope for the capital markets in New Zealand it's going to be around the environment, social and governance products," she said, pointing to the growing popularity of green bonds.
In its report, MinterEllisonRuddWatts said New Zealand's M&A activity was expected to slow down in 2020, with processes taking longer, and some deals failing to complete.
But the firm predicts a settling of the market and further adjustment where deals are being perceived as expensive.
It also sees increased M&A activity in the financial services sector.
There would be greater divestment activity by private equity firms, with at least 56 investments ripe for sale, based on traditional holding cycles of three to five years.
There would also be increased use of alternative funding structures as New Zealand's banks respond to the capital requirements.
"With very few IPOs completed in the last 12 months, we predict the slowing of listings to continue with more businesses turning to other sources of equity," the firm said.
Single duty free on the cards
Love it or loathe it, duty free as a travel retail category is under threat due to its apparent pricing advantage having been eroded in recent years.
This has opened the door for Auckland International Airport to look at reverting to a single duty free operator model, reckons Forsyth Barr analyst Andy Bowley, who says the Commerce Commission will have softened its stance since the airport company last toyed with the idea 10 years ago.
The regulator's view may have changed on the basis that online retail provides price competition in many duty free categories these days and there's more price visibility and transaction capability across duty free retailers, he says in his latest note on the airport.
It's a reasonable issue for the airport as duty free contributes close to half of the company's retail income, despite that contribution having fallen in recent years.
Bowley says going duty free solo could be worth an additional $14 million per annum, or roughly 3 per cent of group net profit, of concession income to Auckland Airport.
However, rather than provide an earnings boost, he expects it would largely mitigate the risk posed by the challenges facing the two current providers.
Unlike most airports around the world, Auckland Airport has two duty free stores that compete against each other - Aelia and The Loop.
These retailers are likely struggling with high rentals and a lower weighting of higher-spending Chinese visitors (even prior to the coronavirus outbreak), Bowley notes.
Auckland Airport's concession income is protected by minimum annual guarantees but only until 2022 when that arrangement is retendered.
Revisiting the solo duty free option could mitigate any upside risk from that event, Bowley says, although he notes the company is increasing retail revenue in other areas anyway.
"While we recognise the structural threat to duty free as a category we believe AIA will continue to grow its retail income per [passenger] driven by inflation and the growth in off-airport retail, its growing e-commerce platform and future initiatives, and price inflation."
The analyst makes no changes to his earnings forecasts and says the stock remains expensive at 22 times one-year forward ebitda.
Auckland Airport shares recently traded at $8.62, well above Forsyth Barr's target price of $7.90.